Editor’s Note: You know the drill. Spoilers for both the TV series and comics ahead…
Melissa McBride (Carol) should win an Emmy. In the last two seasons of The Walking Dead, Scott Gimple and the rest of the writers have made great use of her character, and it definitely shows in episodes such as “Consumed.” McBride has had two standout performances this season — first, in the explosive season 5 premiere in which she single-handedly saved everyone from the Terminans, and now this episode, which deals with Carol’s imminent rendezvous with death. After this episode, even though she has now become my favorite character on the show, I stand by what I’ve said all season: Carol is dead by midseason.
I’m glad “Consumed” came directly after last week’s “Self Help.” Both episodes dealt with how one of the main characters had been changed by the apocalypse through flashbacks and revelations in the present. Placed side by side, these two episodes really illustrate everything that’s right with the show and everything that’s wrong. While Abraham’s episode is a very ham-handed attempt to develop a character we don’t need to know any more about — using the most cliche situation as its setup — Carol’s episode is a quiet look into a character through her actions in the present. The flashbacks don’t tell much story, but instead expertly hammer down the themes.
“Consumed” is effective, shedding more light on a character that I hadn’t realized still was a bit of a mystery to me. Carol has been facing the chaos all her life. That’s successful backstory: immediately enlightening and vital to the episode’s structure. The focus of this backstory isn’t on the people Carol lost, but the skin she’s shed over and over.
The episode stitches different moments from Carol’s past on the show throughout, opening with Carol surviving after Rick banished her from the group, returning to the burning prison, trying to catch condensation on plastic (nice little homage to 28 Days Later), and yelling at a zombie to go away while parked on the side of the road. McBride delivers all these moments with just the right amount of energy. Her kind of character could step into the melodramatic within seconds (and she does in the comics), but McBride knows exactly when to tone it down a bit. BIG important personal moments are sprinkled sparingly in this episode, never a big spotlight on a scene (or terrible blurry flashback cues) to let everyone know “this is important.” You just know the moment is important by how telling the dialogue or action is.
It really was a good decision to send Daryl and Carol out on their own. While last season’s Daryl and Beth duo didn’t make a lot of sense to me, this new dynamic duo are so great together. The two most silent characters on the show forced to talk to each other about their feelings? Now there’s something I want to see every week. And these two have an excellent intimate moment this week while at Carol’s old shelter for battered women. A book on child abuse on a desk (in the room where Carol undoubtedly stayed with Sophia before the apocalypse) triggers Carol’s entire first skin. She begins to shed. Before the zombies showed up, Carol was basically one herself, allowing Ed to beat her and hurt Sophia.
Then there’s Carol’s life at the Prison, who she thought she needed to be (who she should’ve been all along, according to her), but that skin is quickly ripped away from her when she goes a bit too far — although I’ll argue that not enough people were doing what was necessary. Carol was the only one with any goddamn perspective. Survive or die.
By the time we get the brief glimpse of Carol and Tyreese burying the ill-fated sisters from last season’s most shocking episode, we understand that we’ve just watched an entire hour about new beginnings, and how Carol just might not get a chance to start over before the end. Daryl, who wasn’t really put through the ringer enough last season, is dealing with the aftermath of the Prison. He’s in Atlanta trying to save Beth, dealing with his shit.
But Carol doesn’t get her daughter back, doesn’t get the little girls back, doesn’t really feel like she’s a part of the group anymore. She says she’s trying to start over, but is that really true? I don’t think she thinks there’s a happy ending for her in sight. That’s why she’s giving everything she has left, fighting through what is probably a major internal injury after the excellent van scene. The image at the end of “Slabtown” when Carol is being rolled in on a gurney in front of Beth seemed very telling to me. Like it’s an exchange. It’s a perfect tragedy.
QUICK ZOMBIE NOTES
I usually prefer to flesh these out into a very big piece, but I felt that this episode was so thematic and character-centric that that discussion really deserved all the spotlight. So here are some other things I really enjoyed (or disliked) from the episode in quick notes:
– We finally get the promised Carol and Daryl episode! I think The Walking Dead is at its strongest when telling tight arcs that don’t jump back and forth. The latter half of last season was really tough for me because I couldn’t really emotionally invest anything into any of the mini-arcs since the show kept jumping around from episode to episode. “Slabtown” should have been immediately followed by “Consumed.” “Self Help” was a very awkward jump.
– This season has really taken advantage of darkness. Now that I think about it, the very big shots always tend to take place in the daylight, don’t they? But here we get a great big panoramic shot of destroyed Atlanta in the middle of the night. That whole car scene is so eerie.
– How many times do we have to watch a music montage of a character surviving? I always go back to the terrible opening montage from last season that featured Bob just walking around. Yuck.
– Although oft-used in most zombie things, it’s so great to see a city full of zombies again. The Walking Dead doesn’t often step into urban areas, so it’s a nice change of space.
– Daryl questions Carol about running away again, and that really is the question, isn’t it? If Carol doesn’t die by the end of the season, will she stick with the group? I don’t think so.
– The scene with the zombie children at the shelter is so affecting. The message seems to be “No one is saved.” Interesting juxtaposition to the new beginnings theme of the episode.
– The great musical cues! The most quiet soundtrack I’ve ever heard on this show. No loud guitar. Sinister, explorative horns, light bells, rising strings. Goosebumps.
– Daryl and Carol really are the dynamic duo of the show. I wouldn’t mind them branching off for the rest of the run. In a large group, their effectiveness is kind of lost in the numbers. Alone, forced to talk and express their doubts, though, that would work really well.
– Exploration. It’s the first episode in a long while that shows a survivor exploring the area. Daryl and Carol’s expedition to Atlanta is one of rediscovery.
– Noah is so fantastic in this episode. I really love the character. He’s still lighter in tone than any of the very grim survivors. He adds a nice balance to the dark episode. Noah is the right guy to set off the action sequences, too. More of him, please.
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